Book Review – ‘Famous Last Words’ by Katie Alender

Moving into an old Hollywood starlet’s house in the hills and find it’s haunted – yes please!

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Mystery

No. of pages: 320

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Willa is freaking out. It seems like she’s seeing things. Like a dead body in her swimming pool. Frantic messages on her walls. A reflection that is not her own. It’s almost as if someone — or something — is trying to send her a message. Meanwhile, a killer is stalking Los Angeles — a killer who reenacts famous movie murder scenes. Could Willa’s strange visions have to do with these unsolved murders? Or is she going crazy? And who can she confide in? There’s Marnie, her new friend who may not be totally trustworthy. And there’s Reed, who’s ridiculously handsome and seems to get Willa. There’s also Wyatt, who’s super smart but unhealthily obsessed with the Hollywood Killer.All Willa knows is, she has to confront the possible-ghost in her house, or she just might lose her mind . . . or her life.

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This novel has been on my TBR shelf for years. Years I tell you! So glad I have gotten around to reading ‘Famous Last Words’  because it has reminded me why I like reading this genre so much.

Katie Alender has a really cool writing style. It feels effortless. So many YA paranormal mysteries shoot off in tangents with info dumping or tripping the spooky fantastic, ‘Famous Last Words’ felt grounded in the story. Admittedly there were a few moments I wanted to eye-roll or shudder, but on the whole this was a delight to read. Alender has a sense of timing and comedy that I found charming.

For the most part I will say the novel was predictable. I had a hunch how it would turn out very early on, but with Alender’s writing style I was never 100% certain. So I still managed to stay engaged and get really sucked into the story.

Willa was a great protagonist. We didn’t get clues intentionally left out of the narrative to red-herring the reader. We uncover facts as she does. We get great character development. Though there is a little element of ‘out there’ to the plot, it felt grounded in plausibility, and I really liked the paranormal twist on the murder mystery. Willa does not feel like a waif or wallflower, nor does she feel like some high achieving super sleuth. Just a regular teen overcoming tragedy and attempting to fit into a new life moving to the Hollywood Hills with her mother and new stepfather.

There was great character building, all the cast had distinct personalities and it was easy to pick their voice from a crowd – it made reading ‘Famous Last Words’ effortless. The pacing did not lull once from the start of this first person narrative told through Willa’s eyes. I devoured this novel in two quick sittings.

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Once again it was great to see parental involvement in a YA mystery, though not as much as I would have liked. But on a side note the number of times Willa is asked if she was okay in the first half of this novel was a bit ridiculous. I may have been grinding my teeth after the third or fourth time.

We have two possible love interests: Wyatt an OCD loner nerd who was catnip to this reader gal; and Reed with a too-cute-to-be-good kind of vibe. The instant nature Willa and Reed’s attraction set off alarm bells to me. Duh-duh-duuuhhh!

And then we have Marnie, the friend who happens to be a compulsive liar and attention seeker, but with a streak of genuine-ness to her. For some reason this felt very Hollywood.

I enjoyed my time reading ‘Famous Last Words’ and would happily recommend this to younger readers whom love mystery and paranormal – older readers may not get as much out of it…

Overall feeling: A satisfyingly spooky mystery

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Slayer’ (#1 Slayer) by Kiersten White

Re-visiting my ultimate fandom.

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Genre: YA, Paranormal

No. of pages: 404

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Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

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It was fun to get reacquainted with the Buffyverse through ‘Slayer.’ While it is technically cannon and references many familiar characters, it didn’t quite match the tone of the television series ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ Though it has elements of teen drama, horror, and dark comedy, it managed to carve out its own identity.

I found parts of the narrative repetitive – especially in the first half – and it became somewhat annoying, but once past the midway point ‘Slayer’ really starts to amp up. The pacing is pretty good, but in what we’ve come to expect from Whedon’s brainchild, ‘Slayer’ is the poorer cousin. There should have been much more drama and angst, much more action, and a heavy, more pronounced theme of good versus evil… and some core moral centre that the protagonist deals with.

The concept of twins and prophecy was a fun twist and great to explore. Stepping into the world post-Sunnydale where hundreds of potential slayers have realised their power, Watcher/medic in training Nina (‘Artemis’) has joined the ranks of newly awakened slayers. I feel like having Nina isolated and in hiding with the remainder of the Watcher brethren was a great storytelling perspective, but did little to create a lot of relatable content for the reader. Buffy was a typical teen who just wanted to be normal – Nina is a naive teen who doesn’t know what she wants… so for the first half of the novel I didn’t really care for her as a main character because she lacked the strength and interest. Though as she stretches her newly slayer abilities Nina grows into the role.

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There was this whole kept-in-the-dark-for-your-own-protection trope and miscommunications which was okay as a plot device, but I’ve seen it executed much better; and not only did it feel obvious, but frustrating that I was able to not only predict the outcome of the novel, but pretty much all but one of the smaller story arcs. I feel like Kiersten White could have cut 100-150 pages out, only hinting at plot reveals, and this would have not only been a better paced read, but married true to the tone of the source material. But it was so nostalgic and squee-worthy to be back in the Buffyverse. Plus, a red-headed protagonist – fellow gingers unite!

So I may have rated this lower if not for the connection to my early years through the Whedonverse, and just the simple enjoyment of spending a few days back in that place. This was an emotional connection, and I felt like the story was really getting its legs in the second half. So I’m assuming the sequel ‘Chosen’ is going to be much better and I am definitely fangirling over these books.

I’d love to freely recommend this to everyone, but some hard-core Buffy fans may not take to ‘Slayer’ so easily. While this has elements of the franchise, it’s not delivered as tightly as the source material. Even the DarkHorse comics that continued the story after the television series ended with a team of the original writers (helmed by Jos Whedon himself) still retain that ‘it’ factor we’ve come to love in the Buffyverse that I felt wasn’t quite reached with Kiersten Whites take on the franchise. But hey, I’d would LOVE to be proven wrong.

Overall feeling: A fun frolic in a favorite fandom

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Books I read in 2019

Here are some goodreads stats and book covers of everything I read over the course of last year…

Casey Carlisle Books Read in 2019

…and if I had to pick my favorite read for last year it would have to be ‘Contagion‘ by Erin Bowman.

What was your most enjoyable read from 2019? I’d love some great recommendations.

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Haunted’ (#1 The Haunted) by Danielle Vega

The Grudge and Amytiville House all rolled into one.

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 252

From Goodreads:

Hendricks Becker-O’Malley is new in town, and she’s bringing baggage with her. With a dark and wild past, Hendricks doesn’t think the small town her parents moved her to has much to offer her in terms of excitement. She plans on laying low, but when she’s suddenly welcomed into the popular crowd at school, things don’t go as expected.

Hendricks learns from her new friends that the fixer-upper her parents are so excited about is notorious in town. Local legend says it’s haunted. Hendricks doesn’t believe it. Until she’s forced to. Blood-curdling screams erupt from the basement, her little brother wakes up covered in scratches, and something, or someone pushes her dad down the stairs. With help from the mysterious boy next door, Hendricks makes it her mission to take down the ghosts . . . if they don’t take her first.  

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A brilliant little fast-paced read that feels like you’re watching a horror movie.

Danielle Vega has done it again! I loved ‘The Haunted.’ It created a sufficiently spooky atmosphere and walked that line of reality and supernatural. A fantastic haunted house storyline that slowly unfolds to a totally unpredictable ending. If I have one criticism, it’s that the story wasn’t complex enough. But I have noticed that about Vega’s writing. She likes short, to the point horrors that build intense imagery.

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleHendrick’s is a fun protagonist, moving to a new small town, enrolling in high school and dealing with some weird hallucinations that may or may not be connected to a troubled past. The town of Drearfield offers Hendricks a clean slate, one that she is determined to take advantage of. Straight off the bat she is a got-getter. Proactive. Despite past events, she is not wallowing in grief or self-pity. I instantly liked her. Hendricks was a battler right to the end.

We do get a lot of tropes however – the parents not believing or being involved in the paranormal storyline, the emo loner, the jock, the love triangle… it was a little bit cringey, but I have to admit, I enjoy those from time to time. Even with those tropes, the friends Hendricks makes at school does deconstruct the stereotypes a little, giving a taste of freshness to Vega’s writing style.

Eddie, the emo loner and next door neighbour, jilted from the ‘in’ crowd at school, knows more about the haunting than he’s letting on; and is one of the love interests for Hendircks. I enjoyed how Vega develops this character, even if it is somewhat predicable.

Our jock, Connor, seems to be the quintessential stereotype, turns out to have a heart of gold, oodles amount of patients, and once I got to see him interact with many of the other cast, came to favour him above all the rest… and it was interesting having him as Hendrick’s other suitor.

Notable mention: the not-quite-mean-girl, Portia played her role expertly. But I could take her or leave her, she was an integral part of the plot – as the tool for dragging our protagonist into unfamiliar situations. I felt like she needed a bit more development and wasn’t so stereotypical.

There are some triggers around torture, sexual assault and abuse, and definitely some gory scenes to boot.

Read easily in two sittings, and ties everything up nicely. Enjoyed the ending – that plot twist though… girl!

The dominant theme was about overcoming abuse and learning to stand up for yourself. And family.

Vega has cemented herself as one of my auto-buy authors. She’s highly recommended to those younger readers who love horror – like a Stephen King starter pack.

I thought this was going to be a standalone, but just found out there is a sequel slated for release in 2020 titled ‘The Unleashed.’  You can bet your first born I’m excited about this and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

Overall feeling: Holy Haunted House!

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Twilight Heart’ (#7 Harbinger P.I.) by Adam Wright

Sorceresses, witch portals, Excalibur… things are getting interesting.

Twilight Heart (#7 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Detective

No. of pages: 214

From Goodreads:

How do you mend a broken heart?…

Put it back into the sorceress it came out of.

There’s only one way to lift Mallory’s death curse and Alec will do anything to save his friend.

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I’m starting to sit on the fence with this series. While it falls under the category of ‘guilty pleasure’ for me – entertaining, easy, quick read full of action; Wright’s writing is not evolving, and each subsequent sequel is feeling episodic, repetitive and serialized.

These novels are tending towards being entirely plot driven. No character development. Still the secondary characters are used as tools to service the main character and drive the plot forward. I was trying to figure out what it was that was bothering me so much about this writing style, and then it hit me: the novel reads like a Cliff’s notes version of itself. Not enough time is spent on the meaty parts of the story (where we have opportunities for the characters to grow and change from the adversity they face) and in between these scenes is longer than necessary with descriptions of menial facts. I wanted more world building, more ambience. I’d like to see Wright dwell in the key plot points, turning points, and conclusion of the novel. ‘Twilight Heart’ felt a bit rushed.

BUT. Having said all that, the saving grace is that the material is quite entertaining. I love all the paranormal goings-on… though lately is getting a bit scattered. And you can read the entire book within 2-3 hours.

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I will say that Wright’s writing has improved – I’m not getting the repetition of typical phrases that cropped up a lot in previous novels. The language is engaging and he can insert humour in the perfect spots. I just wish he’d allow the story to unfold organically. I get a real sense of the author guiding the story along. He’s got all the tools to write an outstanding novel in this genre – I just wonder if he’s putting undue pressure on himself to churn out a certain number of novels in a year?

While sticking to the now established pattern of solving one key crime/mystery per novel, and dropping breadcrumbs of others in the last page or two of another, I feel a little cheated. Again we could get more exploration of the new clues and mysteries. Have them scattered throughout the novel to build a momentum so that when the teaser for the next novel is delivered it packs a punch. Leaves the reader with anticipation. Instead it feels like a ‘Oh by the way… The End’

I also found more grammatical errors that could have been picked up with a read-through.

So while I am enjoying these novels, I’d only recommend them to their niche demographic, and, if Wright doesn’t start developing his storytelling methods, I’m going to get bored and abandon his books completely.

Overall feeling: Fun, but it’s getting a little meh…

Twilight Heart (#7 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Twilight Heart (#7 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Midnight Blood’ (#6 Harbinger P.I.) by Adam Wright

A hodge-podge of magical beings and elements – and I like it.

Midnight Blood (#6 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Detective

No. of pages: 242

From Goodreads:

If you love someone, set them free…If they come back, they could be a zombie

Someone is trying to kill Charles Hawthorne, one of the richest men in Maine. And they’re using magic to do it.

He suspects the members of his own family and hires me to check them out. I soon discover that Charles Hawthorne has a dark secret in his past; a secret that may have come back to haunt him.

With an ancient wizard bugging me to chase down the Midnight Cabal and two Shadow Watch agents who want to question me about my father, things are going to get crazy.

Oh, and Mallory’s back, along with some supernatural baggage.

Time to sharpen the swords…no, not that sword…and get to work!

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Another instalment of the P.I. Harbinger series. I really enjoyed this one. A quick, adventurous read. I had commented a little about some of the machismo/sexism that our protagonist Alec sometime exhibited, and it seemed to have been tossed out the window in ‘Midnight Blood’ and made it a much more pleasant read – though we do get a bit of this attitude (and classism) from one of the agencies clients in the story.

There is still that niggling notion of some of the overarching storylines that continue through many different volumes of this series, and how they aren’t moved forward enough for me to get any satisfaction – if they are sprinkled so lightly, the reader is going to start forgetting clues and not get invested in the story. It feels much like a tv episode where a case is wrapped up and a few points are hit for seasonal arcs. Its fun reading but is starting to get repetitive. I don’t want the Harbinger series to get stale and formulaic. Though Adam Wright’s writing is improving with each subsequent sequel.

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There were no repetition of phrases (like in some of the prequels) in ‘Midnight Blood,’ the pacing was great, and the story flowed easily. I did find a number of small grammatical errors, but nothing worth noting. I couldn’t help but ponder on the switch to dual perspectives (following Alec’s assistant Felicity as she took over the case of ‘Midnight Blood’s plot) well after the halfway point when Alec’s narrative had been well established… it felt a bit amateurish.

There is still a bit of that convenience of calling on the rest of his ‘Scooby Gang,’ and them just falling in line, risking their lives. It was written better here, but still, there was little establishment or motivation to make it feel believable.

I really enjoyed Alec in this one, there wasn’t the predilection to describe women by their physical characteristics in a sexual manner, and they weren’t falling over themselves to jump his bones. It was a lovely reprieve. I think with that old James Bond-esque tone removed, I really got into the story instead of eye-rolling at the relationships/flings/flirting. Taking time to develop character and story has greatly benefited ‘Midnight Blood.’ Whatever romantic relationship Alec develops in the future, I hope it follows suit and build and grows from something, and not just a reaction to something or an impulse.

This did feel too short. The main storyline on the attempts of a wealthy man’s life through magical means was perfect, but I needed more from the three other plot lines, and maybe some more development in the relationships between the cast. It doesn’t give me any time to care about the people Alec has in his life if they are just cameos serving as a plot device to drive the story forward (without facing any difficulty.) We’re getting to the point now where there are six novels in this collection and I can’t recall or describe the different types of relationships between Alec and the different members of the Scooby gang. He has saved their lives, but I don’t feel that connection when reading the book. Mallory is a past love interest, and some scenes are great, and others, just meh. As for the Blackwell sisters… I really have no clue there, they just seem to be someone to turn to when you need a spell or teleported somewhere. They serve no other purpose in the story.

Midnight Blood’ is predictable – you know Alec is going to solve his case – he always does. I’d like to see him fail, or face some bigger hurdle to mix things up a bit. But this is still a fun read I’d recommend to fans and lovers of the paranormal detective genre.

Not bad, still a guilty pleasure. Looking forward to the next sequel ‘Twilight Heart.’

Overall feeling: Getting better – a gold star for you!

Midnight Blood (#6 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Midnight Blood (#6 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

#BQ Scorch by Casey Carlisle

Thought experiment : What if you could date anyone in the afterlife, who would it be and why?

For me… hmm… maybe Edmund Hillary (a New Zealand explorer who conquered Mount Everest) because I like to go on adventures – as long as we can have all my dogs tag along. Hey it’s the afterlife, there are no rules.